. Lily, bless her heart, spent most of the drive working in her activity maths book and Eli, as is typical, spent the drive staring out the window and reading road signs. He made a couple of comments about, "Niagara", that sounds funny, "Dad, it sounds like we are getting closer to Niagara Falls". Jess and Tim merely made "un-hunh" noises and no other comments. Finally, Lily peeled her eyes away from her book and said, "Mum and Dad, are we going to Niagara Falls?" When we finally acknowledged that we were and that it was the great surprise of the day, we were gifted with a series of "thank you, thank you, thank you, you're the best!!!!" This made the surprise seem worthwhile and we began to feel very glad that we had planned it. So, we pulled into our campground, had some leftovers for lunch, pitched the tent and then headed back towards Niagara Falls State Park (the oldest State Park in America) to see the falls and enjoy this natural wonder.
What we hadn't realized until we checked into our State Park in Youngstown, was that our permit to get into this State Park, also got us free parking at Niagara Falls State Park. Tim, being Tim, was therefore focused on getting a park in the one car park that we could park in for free and despite the signs blocking the gate and saying the lot was full, we circled the block three times, and just as we were prepared to pay for parking, the attendants were moving the signs and we were able to zip straight in and get a plum parking spot just a 5 minute walk from the falls themselves
. At this point, it is worth stopping and saying that this particular destination is one of the most over touristed spots we have been. There are stores selling crap everywhere, people speaking a whole range of languages, restaurants and signs advertising everything from jet boat rides to 3 t-shirts for $10. People were swarming everywhere and there was a general buzz of excitement in the air. What we also weren't aware of is that there are actually two waterfalls at this famous locale and because the Canadian border is right across the river, this is really a shared area linked by the international peace bridge across which tourists are welcome to stroll as they cross from one country to the other. The American Falls are called Niagara Falls and the Canadian, Horseshoe falls. It is safe to say that Horseshoe falls are the more dramatic and impressive of the two falls and the one that is almost always captured in photographs. All this passed by us quickly as Tim was very focused on getting tickets to get on the 'Maid of the Mist' boat that has been taking visitors to the base of both falls since 1846. This was a very reasonably priced adventure and something we were very keen on doing. We first had to take a 200 foot elevator down to the river and line up to board one of the two boats in circulation. As we walked down the gangway towards the boat we were issued very thin, full body-length, with a hood and drawstrings, plastic rain ponchos that were emblazoned with "Maid of the Mist'. The reason for this was obvious as even from the boat dock, the mist generated from the thundering water, was flying through the air and lightly landing on us
. We boarded the boat, donned our slickers and within seconds the boat was pulling out and heading towards the base of the American falls, Niagara. This was the smaller, narrower and shorter of the two falls and at the bottom were several rocks so that anyone attempting to go over these falls in a barrel would have been immediately smashed to bits at the bottom of the falls. It was on the short put-put to these that the water spray really picked up and it flew over us and the boat with such intensity, that the water quickly gathered on the ponchos, ran down and drenched our shoes. Jess the photographer, didn't have hands free to hold down her poncho and got a thorough soaking not just on her feet, but also on the bottom half of her pants. Tim and the kids were yahooing and hollering and in general having a fantastic time. We then carried on a little further up the river and the boat engine was going at full throttle just to get us close and then to hold us in position at the base of the Canadian falls, Horseshoe. This was truly impressive and to be at the bottom of this natural spectacle was simply stunning. It was surely a fitting and compelling end to the road trip section of our great odyssey!!!!! We were all dripping wet in our ponchos, Tim and Lily couldn't see through their glasses and all of us had the biggest, goofiest smiles on our faces that you could possibly imagine. Rock on "Heidmanns on Tour".
After this we wandered back to the Visitor Center, had yet another warm afternoon ice cream and visited the souvenir shops for a snow globe for Lily and her burgeoning collection and some postcards for the rest of us
. It was then a short 15 minute drive back to our campground and the kids had a play on the playground while the grown-ups relaxed and cooked dinner and then we played and relaxed before climbing into the tent at dark for a final night on the road before the Saylor family wedding this weekend. I will write more in the future about what this trip has meant to all of us, but it surely has been amazing to spend 86 days driving around and touring this great and diverse country. We are privileged and lucky indeed to have the luxury of this trip and I will again repeat what we have heard from so many people along the way; "I've lived here my whole life and you have seen more in three months than I have in my whole life!" There will be more to come no doubt, but tonight marks the end of a large chapter in this epic journey that Jess and I have been planning and dreaming about for so long. The memories are now so condensed together that it is hard to imagine and remember all we have done but it is all in the bank and we will be able to make withdrawals for a lifetime as we reminisce about what we have accomplished. Although there have been some challenges along the way, it is safe to say that we have never been closer as a family and tonight is quite a bittersweet moment, for although we are all ready for some permanence and routines, there is a large piece of all of us that never wants this to end!!! More sentimental stuff to follow in two weeks when it is finally over and we are settled back into Connecticut and preparing for the kids to return to school and Tim to work.
Today represented the last day that we had on this road trip as just Kiwi Heidmanns (H.O.T) and we decided that it was important to do something special to recognize the 86th day on the road trip and 104th since we left Aotearoa. Fortunately, we only had a four hour drive to our campground in Youngstown, New York and we were able to lie in bed this morning and read some books before we rolled up and out and had breakfast, packed Odie and the tent for nearly the last time, and then we were on the road at 9am. Jess and I have known for some time that today we were going to be visiting Niagara Falls as this was on Lily's wish list of items to see while in America and was also featured in Eli's 'Landmarks of the World' book. However, we had kept this as a well-guarded secret and ever since we had begun to discuss this leg of the trip, we had referred to today's destination as "Buffalo" as this large, western New York City is a short drive South of Niagara Falls. Therefore, it was with great delight and anticipation that we drove towards Buffalo and Niagara Falls and waited for the 'penny to drop'